While ‘safety and security’, in the context of crime and political unrest, are the highest priority for travellers when choosing where to take a vacation – tourist arrivals to Tunisia, for example, plunged by 40% following the attack by a lone-wolf jihadist who slaughtered 38 holidaymakers at the beach resort Sousse in 2015 – personal health safety runs a close second.
For example, travel bookings to the entire continent of Africa fell by a staggering 70% during and following the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak which was confined to three West African countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The point is, even the perception of a health risk can deter visitors.
With that in mind, we return to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report and look at the section on ’Health and hygiene’. And, once again, we see that the Philippines falls behind its main tourism rivals in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
First, the numbers. The Philippines’ global ranking (out of 136 countries worldwide) for ’Health and hygiene’ in the context of eight Asean member states – Brunei and Myanmar were not surveyed – is as follow: Singapore, 62nd; Malaysia, 77th; Vietnam, 82nd; Thailand, 90th; Philippines, 92nd; Laos, 106th; Indonesia, 108th; Cambodia, 109th.
So what that tells anyone who’s thinking of going to the Philippines for a vacation is that there are four other prime Southeast Asian destinations where there’s less chance of getting ill – particularly from either drinking the water or from poor sanitation; two of the criteria covered bin the overall assessment.
Equally concerning is the availability of hospital-bed accommodation. This is where the Philippines came in that sub-category: Thailand, 73rd; Singapore/Vietnam, joint 79th; Malaysia, 82nd; Laos, 94th; Philippines, 109th; Indonesia, 110th; Cambodia, 116th.
What that tells prospective visitors to the archipelago is that if they do get sick or have an accident that requires the stay in a hospital, they may be hard pressed to find a bed.
But for us, the most worrying statistic is the one where the Philippines actually out-stripped its Asean rivals and notches up a top global ranking – the one that measures the prevalence of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in these countries.
Here’s the Asean-country rankings globally for this sub-category: Philippines/Singapore, joint 1st; Laos, 60th; Malaysia/Vietnam/Indonesia, joint 85th; Cambodia, 92nd; Thailand, 106th.
What that says is that the Philippines (along with Singapore) is not just the safest place in Asean as far as HIV is concerned – it’s one of the safest places in the world. In other words, a country which has a flourishing sex-tourism trade – moreover, a country with one of the lowest condom uses in the whole of Asia; and one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections – is relatively HIV free.
These rankings, of course are predicated on official government reporting. And government reporting on this issue has always been shadowy to put it mildly – not necessarily intentionally, but because the persistent cultural stigma attached to this disease in the Philippines – plus the general lack of awareness about HIV – has frustrated all efforts to promote testing among the at-risk population.
This claimed low incidence of HIV flies in the face of a 2012 report by the United Nations’ Development Programme which cited the Philippines as one of just seven countries worldwide where HIV cases had risen by 25% or more since 2001. It ignores a 2015 report by the Philippines’ Department of Health which said that the HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men – the most at-risk group of all – had increased 10 fold since 2010.
The Volatilian™ has reported extensively on this problem – for those reports, click here: The Philippines’ formidable hidden enemy [24 July, 2016]; To defuse a time bomb [9 December 2015]; Duterte’s dual condom conduits [14 January 2017].
The plain fact is no one actually knows the size of the Philippines’ HIV universe. But, increasingly, anxiety about it is rising. One thing we’re prepared to go out on a limb and say though, is that the Philippines is not among the safest places in the world where HIV is concerned.